It is not often that I come from a diocesan synod meeting feeling energized and enthused, but last Saturday I did. Bishop Steven (Oxford) challenged us to become the best church we can be. In fact he presented it as a moral imperative in a world where so many people are so wounded. Bishop Steven’s chosen text was Jeremiah 8, 11:
“They have treated the wounds of my people carelessly, saying “Peace, peace” where there is no peace.”
Bishop Steven suggested that healing the wounds of ‘his’ people requires us to be a contemplative, compassionate and courageous church. Just three words, but three words that could make all the difference to our life and witness.
As I have been reflecting (doing the first of the 3 c’s) over the course of the last week I have also found myself drawn into the idea of ‘being the best church we can be.’ I think there is something both realistic and humane in being the best we can be. It’s simultaneously realistic and humane because it accepts that we will never be perfect. Sometimes, normally, all we can be is the best we can be and, as someone once said, ‘perfect is the enemy of good.’
Being the best we can be is realistic because it accepts that there are competing notions in the church over what being ‘the best’ actually means. The best that ‘I’ can be is not necessarily the same as the best that ‘we’ can be, and if we are serious about unity the best that ‘we’ can be must be the priority.
Let me give two competing versions of what it means to be ‘the best.’ One version, and the one that I am more naturally sympathetic towards, would want to stress that until we have full equality (where I am the arbiter of equality!) in the church then we can never be the best. Other’s would, and do, argue that until the church stops seeking to adopt the standards of secular culture then the church simply cannot be the best it can be.
But, maybe these are two ‘I’ statements? Perhaps being the ‘best that we can be,’ invites us to step beyond our own preferences, maybe even beyond our own cherished theologies, and ask what, despite our differences can we realistically become? I would suggest that ‘becoming the best we can be,’ is a rejection of winner takes all mindset. Perhaps it invites us to recognise that in the great game of church politics we are all going to have to make significant compromises? Perhaps, it invites us to recognise the danger in holding onto to our cherished theologies too tightly less they become idols? Or maybe I am just going soft!? So, ‘becoming the best we can be,’ is a call to both humility and, to a certain quality of letting go, or laying down. Being the best we can be doesn’t happen on the cheap.
Being ‘the best we can be,’ is not just about reaching some form of internal settlement on issues which potentially divide us (although we do need to do this) it is about providing us with a platform so that we can truly go out into the world with compassion and courage and, make a real difference. ‘Being the best we be’ might not render us perfect but it should, if we are prepared to give it a go, bring us back to the fact that we are brothers and sisters by baptism and create the conditions where we can speak of peace with integrity because we are a church at peace with itself. Until we are at peace with ourselves it is hard to understand how we can speak of peace with integrity to others.
If we are at peace then maybe, just maybe, we can treat the wounds of the world with care simply because we have been able to treat our own wounds with care?